Mike Marble first fell for the drums as a young boy, consumed with the kits in the pages of the Rogers drum catalog. That love has led Marble, 54, through a passionate obsession that has taken him from Norwalk (CT) High School jazz champ to a career of performances with heavyweights such as Chuck Loeb, Arlen Roth, and Ira Seigel to name just a very few. Mike joined us following a session to discuss the practice of practice.
Has learning an instrument helped you beyond improving your ability to play drums?
Absolutely. Most people don’t go through the solitary process that musicians go through. It’s not normal what musicians go through. What we get out of it is physical proof that if you stick to something and chip away at it over weeks and months and years you can get incredible results. You don’t have to start with something great to end up with something great.
How important has practice been to your career?
Some places on Earth, though there are not many left, you can poke around on the ground with a stick and find little pieces of gold. Others, you have to have to pan for it or take a shovel and dig down a couple feet, and after a few days, you may find a nugget or two. Other places you have to dynamite, and it takes months to find any gold. Some of us have been gifted with talent right on the surface. Others have to dig a little deeper for it. And most of us really have to blast with dynamite to find it. I put myself in that last category.
What have you learned from ‘blasting with dynamite?’
I learned patience, which for most of us is not an easy thing. To put off immediate gratification for some great goal down the road. Patience is wonderfully important in most aspects of life.
Often great drummers are referred to with words like feel and pocket. Can feel and pocket be learned?
It all has to start with awareness. The first thing is to develop awareness of how you play right now. I’m a longtime meditator. Developing a certain amount of inner stillness really aids in the development of awareness. Once you can hear how you are, you can compare it to your ideal. You can work slowly towards that.
Is style something that comes organically from time and experience or can it be learned?
You can develop style. We all have players on our instrument that we are drawn to, that we look up to, that we think, ‘If I could only play like that person.’ One of the ways you can develop style is in the decisions you make, the choices you make as a player. Listening to favorite drummers, we begin to understand some of their choices, and make the same kind of choices.
What’s a common challenge facing one learning an instrument?
I have students that complain that they are getting worse. What happens is your awareness has grown, the way you hear yourself play has gotten more acute or accurate. You hear faults in your playing you weren’t aware of. You weren’t hearing those things before. So it’s going to seem like you’ve gotten worse. You have to get through that part.
Any advice for those who feel that way?
Sometimes it’s good to take a couple of days off. The shorter amount of time you’ve been playing, the less that’s probably going to work, though. In the beginning you really need to get your body used to playing the drums, the way your muscles work. That should be an everyday thing for a long time.
Can you talk about some right and wrong ways to approach practice?
What I don’t recommend is looking at practice as being a totally different animal than performing or playing with other people. You can make mistakes to your heart’s content and nobody will be there to hear it, which is one of the wonderful things about practice, and why it’s important to do it- it gives you the freedom to screw up. We do learn from our mistakes. (But) the way you practice is the way you’ll play. If you are not focusing, not honoring the instrument or honoring the music, not taking it seriously, that stuff is going to come out when you go to play with people.
Should playing always be at least a little enjoyable, or do we have to have days that will only be difficult in order to improve?
We’re human beings. We’re not always having a good day. It’s good to understand from the outset that (playing an instrument) is a very challenging proposition. It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to require a lot of effort and perseverance and patience, and the ability to come back from disappointments. Drudgery? If practice is drudgery over a long period of time, then maybe playing drums is not for you. Even in tough times, the painful times, there should be an aspect of enjoyment.